Asian stocks slipped on Wednesday, following a mixed Wall Street session as the region’s investors positioned their portfolios for the new year and grappled with increasing global numbers of Omicron coronavirus cases.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.3%, after six sessions of gains, following volatile U.S. trade.
There were losses in Hong Kong, down 0.99% and hurt by declines in mainland tech stocks while Chinese blue chips shed 1.4%.
In China, the city of Xian entered its seventh day of lockdown on Wednesday after it reported 151 domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections with confirmed symptoms the prior day.
“Uncertainty over lockdowns and policy concerns mean there can still be downside for the broader China markets,” said Selina Sia, head of Greater China equity research at Credit Suisse Private Banking.
“But on the other hand, we have seen that policy measures look to be shifting from tightening to easing.”
Japan’s Nikkei slid 0.76% Wednesday after hitting a one-month high on Tuesday.
But in Australia, the ASX 200 closed up 1.21% for the day even though the country’s most populous state New South Wales announced 11,201 new coronavirus cases.
Volatile markets are common in late December as fund managers prepare to rule off their books for the year and holidays thin trading volumes in some major markets like Australia.
“Typically, at this time of year global investors are starting to rethink their portfolio positions and they are looking at the risks going into 2022,” said Jim McCafferty, Nomura’s joint head of APAC equity research.
“Inflation is rearing its head in Europe and the U.S., it’s more contained in Asia, so people are looking to have their portfolios positioned to mitigate inflation. In equities, people are looking at companies that can pass on any future price rises and firms with dividend growth as one way investors can generate income.”
The rising Omicron case numbers are not spooking investors as much as first feared given fatality rates have not soared and the prospects of global lockdowns remains slim.
“Investors are moving ahead and looking at what the impact will be of going back to normal,” said McCafferty.
In early European trades, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 0.14%, German DAX futures were off 0.18% and FTSE futures rose 0.58%.
U.S. stock futures, the S&P 500 e-minis, were up 0.14%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.26% on Tuesday. The S&P 500 hit a record intraday high during the session but weakened to end the day off 0.10%. The Nasdaq Composite lost 0.56%.
Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were at 1.4756% compared with its U.S. close of 1.481% on Tuesday. The two-year yield, which rises with traders’ expectations of higher Fed fund rates, touched 0.7402% after hitting 0.758% the previous session, a near two-year high.
This, along with the more cautious mood for equities, helped the dollar firm slightly. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six peers =USD, was at 96.19, up from a low of 95.958 on Friday.
U.S. crude was marginally higher to $76.017 a barrel. Brent crude picked up to $79.06 per barrel.
Gold was slightly lower with the spot price at $1,805.9 per ounce.
(Reporting by Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Editing by Sam Holmes)
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